Saturday, the 1st of September

Talking points

Ignored in the West, Wilders takes to trolling Muslims. PHOTO: K. M. Chaudary / AP
  1. Protests in Pakistan forced far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders to scrap his competition for cartoons of the prophet Mohammad
  2. The United Nations claimed that several Myanmar's generals can be prosecuted for genocide;
  3. Canada rushed to get a replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement after the US reached a compromise with Mexico
  4. Telecommunications giant ZTE posted its worst-ever H1 earnings due to a roller-coaster ride with US regulators; the company expects to post a profit in Q3
  5. Ride-sharing company Didi Chuxing issued an apology and frank self-assessment after a second passenger was killed; it says customer safety - not growth - will be its measure of success
  6. An outbreak of measles in Europe has been fuelled by a drop in vaccinations; health officials have lamented the persistence of anti-vaccination campaigns
  7. Five Indian activists were released from prison after a Supreme Court ruling; police are accused of silencing political dissent by arresting the group
  8. Also in India, a report suggests that the banknote demonetisation experiment failed to net the 'black money' it was intended to
  9. American officials expressed concern over the slaughter of Yemeni children by Emirati and Saudi forces; the UN described the attacks as war crimes
  10. A French ban on neonicotinoids comes into force this weekend; it comes just as a study revealed that bees actually become addicted to the harmful pesticides

Deep Dive

Rancho Mirage, Southern California. PHOTO: Xinhua
California, the Golden State. Surfing might be its official sport (really) but don't be fooled by the state’s laidback reputation. Underneath the relaxed veneer is the bleeding edge of American progressivism. California's governor and statehouse are aggressively legislating their way into the future.  

Clean air living

Renewable energy is booming in the US despite the federal government withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. Progress varies from state to state, but California is firmly in the driver's seat (of a hybrid). One recently-passed local law requires all new homes to be equipped with solar power, but that’s small fry.

This week a bill passed California's lower house mandating that a 100% renewable target be met by 2045. The bill will now make its way through the upper house before being signed by the Governor Jerry Brown. After that it's a race to decarbonise energy production in America’s most-populous state, one that nearly 40 million call home. A crucial amendment stipulates that by 2030 all utility companies must be at least 60% green.

State Republicans decry the “breakneck” charge towards decarbonisation. Yet this summer's devastating (and still burning) wildfires are a potent reminder of the effects of climate change.

Bailing out
It's no secret that a cash bail system - being able to pay your way out of pre-trial custody - favours the wealthy. It's just one of many aspects of the American judicial system that punishes the poor with greater severity than the rich. And America's jails are bursting at the seems.

Now California has scrapped the system, couching the decision in terms of judicial equality. Activists for prison reform have described the decision as a transformative moment. Judges can still block certain types of offenders from release - those who've committed sexual crimes, or perpetrated domestic violence, for instance. 

Net benefits
While the national Federal Communications Commission is scrapping net neutrality protections, California is picking them back up again. Lawmakers took a step towards instituting the toughest net neutrality laws in the country - laws that stop providers from throttling or blocking content to users. Stay tuned for a showdown with the Feds.

Men to the side(board)
Still not done: at the Sacramento State Capitol another piece of needed-reform was passed. The state assembly mandated the presence of women on the boards of publicly-traded corporations. 

It's well understood that improving diversity on boards is not just a culturally-minded decision but also a fiscally prudent one. However movement has been slow to-date. Now each suitably-sized board must have at least one female board member by the end of 2019 (and another 2 or three by 2022). 

Not everything is golden in California. Cities like San Francisco are beset by growing homelessness and California has the highest poverty rate in the US when you take into account the cost-of-living. But it’s undeniable that the state government is taking tangible steps to address its problems and against a global backdrop of political in-fighting and stymied ruling parties the world over, this progress should be applauded.



Neo-Nazis are exploiting violence in Germany. PHOTO: Filip Singer / EPA-EFE

Saxony boils over
In the early hours of Sunday a German national was killed in a wild brawl in Chemnitz. The fact that his two assailants were migrants (Iraqi and Syrian) has led to a week of violence, demonstrations and soul-searching.

By Sunday afternoon far-right demonstrators had marched on the city. Hard-core white nationalists were spoiling for a fight; they overwhelmed police, ran amok and brazenly performed the Nazi salute. Immigrants (and just anyone with darker skin) were chased down and beaten in the street. While the state of Saxony has long been a stronghold of neo-Nazi sentiment even local politicians expressed surprise at the size of the rallies (one was 6,000 strong). 

During the week further rallies were held. The neo-Nazis spread disinformation across social media about imagined immigrant crimes and embellished real ones (note the parallels with India's WhatsApp-lynching crisis). Chancellor Angela Merkel decried the "hate in the streets". However right-wing politicians issued a clarion call for Germans to take matters into their own hands. More violence is expected over the weekend.

Joe Biden eulogises Senator McCain. PHOTO: Brian Snyder / Reuters
McCain's record
Yesterday America laid to rest one of its best-known politicians: Senator John Sidney McCain III. After lying in state at the Capitol, the veteran politician was farewelled at the North Phoenix Baptist Church, Arizona. Joe Biden gave a moving eulogy to his friend and rival, a man who liked to be known as a 'maverick'.

But McCain's voting record reveals that he was only very marginally less conservative than the average Republican senator. Truth be told he was a maverick, not because he voted progressively but because he refused to change his own position while his party moved to the right. 

To many, McCain was an elder statesman, a man who shouldered the pomp and splendour of the Grand Old Party. But there was more to John McCain than the mythos suggests. There always is. 

As a soldier McCain had rained death upon Vietnam in Operation Rolling Thunder, and was then shot down and tortured. But the horrors of war didn't soften McCain. In fact, he voted for every military intervention he could. 

As a politician he duelled with his rivals but embraced an (increasingly rare) spirit of bipartisanship. In fact it was often those within his own party who received the worst of McCain's infamous temper. He was a man of principle. But he could also be spiteful, and famously insulted his wife (to her face) in front of reporters during a campaign.

Neither the senator’s one-time running mate Sarah Palin, nor President Donald Trump were invited to the funeral (there was no love lost between Trump and McCain). 

The Best Of Times...

Jack at the Za'atari refugee camp. PHOTO: The Independent 
It's often difficult to find positive news when discussing the plight of Palestinian and Syrian refugees. But given Badou Jack's fame - and frame - it's easy to pick him out. The champion boxer (with two world titles in different weight divisions) has stepped away from the glitz and reward of Las Vegas to help Syrian refugees in Jordan. He's committed a significant amount of money to the Badou Jack Foundation which provides aid to Za'atari, one of the largest refugee camps in the Middle East. What's laudable is the fact that he is doing this in the prime of his career - Jack knows that he will be most able to affect change while at the peak of his fame. Good.

Nuts, seafood, fruit, olive oil, vegetables. The benefits of the 'Mediterranean diet' are trumpeted just about everywhere you look. Well, add this to the list: you can start at any age. A new study has found that adopting a mediterranean diet late in life can markedly prolong life. In fact those on it in their autumn years are 25% less likely to die of any cause than their meat and processed-fat chomping counterparts. This news may come to the chagrin of those already living on the Mediterranean who have to contend with enough touring grey nomads as it is.

The Worst Of Times...

We're losing our minds because of air pollution. PHOTO: Stefan Rousseau / PA

It's been well-documented that air-pollution kills (at a rate of 7 million per annum). The respiratory system slowly degrades when exposed to harmful airborne particles; but what about the brain? One Chinese study has found that poisonous air contributes to a profound loss of intelligence. Those living in areas of heavy air pollution were found to have lost the equivalent of a year’s education because of particulate matter. This startling information affects over 90% of the global population who breathe polluted air each day.

Australia has a complex and fraught relationship with its indigenous people. Close to the heart of this dynamic is the persistent phenomena of indigenous deaths in police custody. New research shows that since 2008 a staggering 147 indigenous Australians have lost their lives while under the duty of care of the relevant authorities. The even greater tragedy is that 56% were killed during arrest or while on remand pending trial. In short: they were yet to be found guilty of a crime.

Weekend Reading

Featured long-reads from inkl publishers:
Tom Wharton


Quote of the week... 
"The weak crumble, are slaughtered and are erased from history while the strong, for good or for ill, survive. The strong are respected, and alliances are made with the strong, and in the end peace is made with the strong." - Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, during a naming ceremony. 

What to (not) watch next week
News commentary on South African land expropriation which appears to be descending entirely into race-baiting.

One last thing
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